Pearce Carefoote, with one of the books at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, says he’s encouraged by Pope Francis’ approach toward acceptance of gay people. Michael Swan

Papal openness to LGBT community welcomed

  • November 6, 2020

Mike Hyland will always remember the day when his 22-year-old son came to him with tears in his eyes and between sobs told his father he was gay. That memory surfaced again when headlines around the world trumpeted Pope Francis declaring gay people have a right to live in a family and should have legal protections.

The Pope’s comments appeared in a new documentary, Francesco, although it has emerged the quotes actually came from a 2019 interview with a Mexican broadcaster. The Vatican has said the quotes were taken out of context and while the Pope has consistently advocated for civil laws to protect rights of homosexual couples, he has not equated it with Church teaching on marriage. Nevertheless, the affirmation of his pastoral approach toward homosexuals as “children of God” who should to be accepted within the family are welcome words to Hyland.

“Pope Francis has recognized that gay individuals are people with real lives and real difficulties and real needs to be accepted and to belong,” Hyland told The Catholic Register. “As a Catholic father I feel that my LGBT children, and in this case my gay son, are not welcome at the eucharistic table, even though he’s welcome at our family table. There’s a huge gap here that needs to be rectified.”

Hyland is very aware that the welcome his family extends to his gay son is not universal.

“Many LGBT Catholic people have been rejected by their parents. Their suicide rate is extremely high, especially in very religious families,” said the retired Catholic teacher who has had a second career as a lay pastoral associate teaching RCIA in a number of Whitby-area parishes.

“So when the Pope says homosexuals have a right to be in a family, he’s giving a strong message — not only to parents in general, but to Catholic parents — just to accept their children.”

Pearce Carefoote, a former priest who is gay, also heard that note of acceptance in Pope Francis’ remarks on civil unions.

“When I heard what the Pope had to say, I thought finally someone seems to get it — that my gift was equally important and I have a right to be at the table, among the family,” he said. “That was the thing that for me was the most hopeful and encouraging thing that I heard.”

After Carefoote left the priesthood in the 1990s he and his partner continued to attend Mass, but Carefoote was banned from any role within a parish. He left the Church in 2005 and opted for Anglican churches, where he had been paid to sing tenor when he found himself unemployed.

“It’s only, in all honesty, with the accession of Pope Francis that we have started to feel comfortable again,” Carefoote said of his return to Sunday Mass in a Catholic parish.

Carefoote, who is head of rare books and special collections at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, knows very well that Francis’ statement about civil unions for LGBTQ people has nothing to do with doctrine.

“He’s not asking for a change in the Church’s teaching. He’s asking for compassion. I think that’s sometimes what I see lacking in the way the hierarchy approaches what he is saying,” said Carefoote. “This is one small step for the gay community. It’s one huge step for the papacy. … For the gay community it’s not really going to make that much of a difference. But I think it does send an important message within the Church — maybe think about how much more important Gospel is over unbending law.”

For Gordon Davies, spokesperson for the All Inclusive Ministries group at Our Lady of Lourdes in downtown Toronto, Pope Francis’ acceptance of gay Catholics reflects the gut instincts of ordinary Catholics he knows.

“At the parish level, my experience and that of my friends is overwhelmingly of acceptance — overwhelmingly,” he said. “Non-Catholics are often shocked when I say that.”

The AIM group has been welcoming back gay Catholics in increasing numbers.

“We get a lot of people who were raised Catholic and were away from the Church for a long time,” Davies said. “And they come to us, and they’ve been coming in greater numbers since Francis has been pope, because they see (Pope Francis) as a symbol of the whole Church. They understand his statements as speaking in a way for the whole Church — as he does.”

That the Church prioritizes acceptance and honours the sacrament of baptism is a message that comes through when Pope Francis speaks, said Davies.

“For those Catholics who have known rejection from their Catholic families, or from their parish when they were young, or from the Church in their country of origin if they are immigrants to Canada, it’s really significant that the Vicar of Christ on Earth should be saying that they are pastorally welcome — really significant,” Davies said.

Another former priest who did not want to be named wishes people would stop assuming gay Canadians enjoy easy lives of full acceptance just because they have the legal protections of marriage and a few positive portrayals in movies and on TV.

“Discrimination and anti-LGBTQ+ violence continue to be a distressing reality that has not gone away, and some groups vehemently resist even educational efforts that they see as ‘normalizing’ LGBTQ+ life,” he said in an e-mail.

Thinking of his own son and of the Church he loves, Hyland imagines a better future.

“Here’s an opportunity for the Church to have a good look at itself and say, ‘How can we support these marginalized
people?’ ” Hyland said. “Especially when we’re called to go out to the margins. This is a part of who we are as Christians.” 

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